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A primary care doctor isn't only for when you're sick. Even folks who are generally healthy need a doctor who can help them stay that way.
"Everybody should have one," said Dr. Vera Guertler of Penn State Health Medical Group-Eastbrook in Ronks, Pa.
"Just like everyone should have a mechanic, you need to have a relationship with a primary care provider from infancy to geriatrics," she said in a health system news release.
Here's why: A primary care doctor can help track your health history, allergies and vital signs, analyze lab tests and help you stay healthy, Guertler said.
Though specialists have become popular, primary care providers can treat many ailments, rather than just serving as a gatekeeper to another doctor, she added.
They can treat infections, stitch cuts, mend simple fractures, give vaccines, help with child development, recommend exercises for back and joint pain, provide solutions for stress-related problems and zero in on preventative care.
"People come in for an ache or pain, and just by listening you discover something like an arrhythmia," said Dr. Zachary McLaughlin, a family medicine physician at Penn State Health Medical Group-Spring Ridge in Wyomissing, Pa.
The likelihood of discovering something serious is higher when the doctor has treated you before. That's because he or she knows your baseline lab results, has listened to your heart and lungs, and knows what's normal and healthy for you.
In an emergency, urgent care centers can be helpful and can treat symptoms, but Guertler said they are often unable to provide care for the whole person.
To find the right primary care doctor, ask friends and family for recommendations, and then make sure the provider accepts your insurance.
At your first appointment, take along your medical history, any medications you use and a list of any questions you have.
And don't be discouraged if finding the perfect provider takes some time. If there's no rapport during the first visit, don't be afraid to move on, Guertler and McLaughlin suggested.
"Think about what your priorities are," Guertler said. "You want someone who is going to hear you out and who is going to explain things in words that fit your vocabulary."
Over the long haul, she said, the primary care doctor's job is to help people help themselves.
You should leave that first appointment with a clear idea of what comes next. McLaughlin said he tries to focus on one or two simple instructions and a plan for follow-up.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a guide to choosing a doctor.
SOURCE: Penn State Health, news release, July 7, 2021
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